Positive Force: More Than a Witness A Review in Free City Radio

Positive Force: More Than a Witness: 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action

By Stefan Christoff
Free City Radio
February 19th, 2015

Positive Force, a community activist project rooted in punk rock culture, with a powerful grassroots legacy of working to directly confront and address social injustices, has long been a grassroots reference. Inherently linked to the spirit of do-it-yourself art and activist practices, Positive Force stands as a meaningful challenge to subcultural social modes of cynicism and inaction, refusing to accept the fatality of our times.

Positive Force : More Than A Witness, 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action, is an excellent documentary film by Robin Bell, a Washington DC-based, videographer and artist, that really tells the story of this important project without filters.

Revolving around many, many interviews, with both the artists and activists that have worked around Positive Force during the past couple decades, the film speaks with passion to the idealistic, anarchist-inspired politics that have driven the project. Importantly, this film also addresses many of the real challenges of sustaining such a shoestring, anti-capitalist project within a society structured on systems that fundamentally stand at war with a project like Positive Force.

Through a multiplicity of voices, this film critically recounts many cultural and activist projects that revolved around Positive Force. Iconic artist and activist Kathleen Hanna, speaks about organizing feminist gatherings at the space and the importance of time spent by Bikini Kill in DC around the Positive Force space and within the larger punk community.

Also featured in the film is the key role that the legendary punk band 7 Seconds played in the space, participating in many of the first benefit gigs for the project. Ian Mackaye and Fugazi are also important to the narrative built in the film, illustrating a close synergy between Fugazi’s fierce independence and the political framework of Positive Force.

Key to the film are the many in-depth interviews with activists who were essential to creating, sustaining and defending the Positive Force project, including the voice of the projects co-founder Mark Andersen. Throughout the film Andersen’s voice offers important context and background, working to ground many of parallel projects around Positive Force highlighted in the documentary.  

Some concrete actions and community projects around Positive Force that the film highlights include, the grassroots punk protests / noise jams against apartheid that took place in the 1980s and early 90s outside of US government buildings and the South African embassy in DC. 

Complicated alliances between Positive Force and more conventional anti-poverty organizations like the National Coalition for the Homeless are also explored in the film. Also the film touches on the influential State of The Union album project, released by Dischord records, organized by Positive Force, that benefited the Community For Creative Nonviolence and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Beyond the organizational origins of Positive Force, along with the inspiring sparks of the 1980s, early 90s independent punk scene in DC, the film also looks at links between the people around the space over the last decade, along with their connections to the anti-corporate globalization movement. Protests in DC against the World Bank and IMF, back in 2000, were an essential point of mobilization for the anti-corporate globalization movement, pushed forward and organized in part by a younger generation of anarchist-inspired activists, who were also working with Positive Force.

In many ways Positive Force : More Than A Witness is important because it illustrates concrete example of punk politics in action, a documentary project that really works to explore the multilayered history of this tiny, but storied community project in DC.

“The shared experience witnessing art together, creates an opening for people to exchange ideas on social justice,” reflects musician, activist and writer Katy Otto in the film. Both this film and the Positive Force project, point to inspiring ideas, suggesting that community art in essence, is about expressing dreams for liberation and building positive energy toward common struggles against the regressive political, economic and social forces working to repress our collective dreams and possibilities.

Back to Robin Bell’s Artist Page